For those who’ve never quite understood golf's Standard and Competition Scratch Scores (SSS and CSS), Jeremy Ellwood sums it up

Golf SSS And CSS Explained

SSS and CSS – where do we start?

Well, the first thing to stress is that SSS rather than par is the measurement against which handicaps are assessed, and even some golfers who have been playing for many years don’t understand this.

The reason for this is quite straightforward – some courses with the same overall par are simply much harder than others because of the make up of the individual holes or the difficulty of the terrain over which they play.

CONGU – the body who control the handicap system in the UK – describe SSS as “a measure of the playing difficulty of a golf course for a scratch golfer under normal mid-season course and weather conditions.”

A number of factors come into play over and above course length when the SSS of a course is evaluated, though length is a major factor.

Other things taken into consideration include 10 ‘obstacle factors’ – topography, fairways, green target recoverability and rough, bunkers, out of bounds, extreme rough, water hazards, trees, green surface and psychological elements.

And four factors that can affect course playing length from day to day are also considered – amount of roll, wind, any forced lay-ups, and the number of doglegs and changes in elevation.

You may be thinking, why isn’t par good enough?

But if you think about it logically, par 3s can be anything from 90 to 249 yards, and par 4s anything from 250 to 500 yards.

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The upper end of those extremes is clearly a considerably harder hole than the lower, so the relative difficulty must be taken into account via means other than par.

Taking an extreme example, let’s say Course A is made up of 18 300-yard par 4s and Course B 18 465-yard par 4s.

The player who shoots level par around the former won’t be as good a golfer as someone who shoots level par around the latter.

One thing that causes a degree of consternation with some golfers is the Competition Scratch Score (CSS).

Some question the need for it; others just don’t understand how it works.

There isn’t space to go into the full details here, but CSS is a day-to-day variation in SSS against which handicap changes are based.

It ranges from one below SSS to three above according to the handicap make-up of the field and the scores returned.

This, in turn, should be a function of the difficulty or otherwise of playing conditions on the day.

As one golf club’s website sums it up: “The logic is simple. If scores on the day are generally very good you can assume that playing conditions were good. In that case it would be unfair to cut a player’s handicap too much as some of the success was probably down to conditions.”

In other words it wasn’t a change in ability that allowed you to score well or forced you to struggle, but a variation in course conditions and difficulty. So it is only right that this is factored into the figure against which handicaps are assessed.

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